A Very Short-Lived Star Trek Adventures Game that I Ran

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  • #5315

    Zach Butler
    Lieutenant

    A few months ago, I ran a Star Trek Adventures game that ended up being a one-shot with my former gaming group. I think y’all would find it interesting. We decided to play in the Enterprise era, specifically just after the Romulan War and the birth of the Federation. There were three players, plus me, the GM, and we’d agreed to let everyone run two PCs to fill out the crew some more. They were fine with not having a real choice of ships besides a Columbia-class cruiser, and had a good laugh about naming it the USS Challenger. They chose to outfit the ship as a Technical Testbed; the idea was that the infant Starfleet was trying to cram in as many upgrades and as much advanced alien tech as possible in a desperate effort to bring their shattered fleets back up to par.

    I’ve changed the names of the players to protect the innocent.

    The crew was the veteran Captain Shon Ch’shegez, played by Kevin; Captain Shon was a former General (and famed Ushaan duelist) in the Andorian Armed Forces, transferred to Starfleet after the War. Though outwardly bristling at having to “babysit a bunch of hopeless pink-skins,” Captain Shon was secretly delighted to be pulled out from behind a desk after years of political ‘duties’ back home. Kevin delighted in creating a character who (as a change of pace from his usual scream-and-leap warrior types he likes to play in D&D) prefers to use diplomatic and scientific options as much as possible. That said, he chose the Value I Don’t Start Fights, But I will Finish Them, and used it to great effect in the adventure.

    Kevin also played Chief Science Officer Lieutenant Petra Kavien, the ever-curious, absent-minded xenobiologist who didn’t get much playtime during the adventure, but was a source of surprisingly hilarious puns told in an equally surprisingly perfect French accent. Kevin also rolled like a god when he was Petra in a scene, too, and shredded an extended task I set up like a chainsaw through tissue paper. More on that later.

    Deb, Kevin’s wife, played T’eknet, a young Vulcan telepath (she picked the Telepath talent from the Betazoid species profile, and I loved the idea and rolled with). T’eknet was the ship’s whizkid pilot–Deb started out character creation by shouting “DIBS ON THE PILOT!” followed by staring me in the eye and grimly stating “If you stop me from making Vulcan Wash, I’m gonna hurt you.” We’re all big fans of Firefly, so I didn’t even try to stop her, naturally. T’eknet was (for a vulcan) idealistic and rash, much given to leaping before she looked, and utterly head-over-heels in love with Deb’s other character.

    That character was Lieutenant Commander Mohammed Khoury. Mohammed was the ship’s chief of security; he was a decorated veteran from the Romulan War; Deb wrote up several drabbles detailing her characters’ backstories and their love for each other (all of which were friggin’ genius, lemme tell you), and one of my favorites detailed Mohammed fighting off Kzinti privateers at the height of the Earth-Romulan War. Mohammed was deeply spiritual, sarcastic as hell, and doted on his Vulcan mate. The running gag during the game was that everyone on the ship was jealous of T’eknet ’cause Mohammed was just that pretty.

    Last, but not least, my ex-girlfriend (and still good friend) Cate played Lieutenant Commander Quorra M’rrr, a Caitian born and raised on Tellar–her family were refugees from their peoples’ genocide at the hands of the Kzinti, and she gained a Tellarite’s temper and instinct to scrutinize every idea. Cate played Quorra as a foul-mouthed queen of the engineering bay, who didn’t suffer any outsider to interfere in her work; the only reason she was the ship’s Chief Engineer was that, frankly, she was a mechanical genius. Furthermore, she was the genius that oversaw the Challenger’s refit. Over the course of the adventure, Quorra kept the Challenger running on basically chewing gum and spite.

    Cate also played the ship’s XO, Commander Alejandra Vasquez, another veteran of the Romulan War, and one that was not lightly messed with if the mess-er valued their heads. Cate and Kevin enjoyed their characters bickering back and forth about how unfair it was that Alejandra was passed over for command of the Challenger in favor of a “senile Andorian aristocrat.” Apart from the verbal fencing, they worked well together, with Vasquez helping adapt the Andorian dictatorial-military style of command to the somewhat more freewheeling Starfleet style.

    • This topic was modified 2 weeks, 3 days ago by  Zach Butler.
    #5316

    Zach Butler
    Lieutenant

    I only ran one adventure, and the group unanimously decided not to play a second. This was my fault entirely: none of us were really familiar with the rules, and my players were still getting used to their characters and were unsure of what to do, so I railroaded them. When it came to character development and backstories, I let them improv as much as they wanted, but when it came to the plot, I railroaded them hard. We played three sessions, and by the beginning of the third I’d lightened up a lot, but the damage was done. They decided Star Trek Adventures wasn’t something they’d want to repeat.

    Ah, well, maybe they’ll change their minds in the future.

    Anyway, the adventure was one I entitled Demons in the Mist. The hook was that the USS Challenger was ordered to survey the 1181-Draco star system, on the far coreward edge of Tellarite territory. In addition, they were to install and test a marvel of Vulcan engineering: the gravitic attractor/repulsor beam array, or ‘tractor beam,’ for short. Little did they know that the system was already claimed by a vicious enemy…but more on that later.

    We opened the adventure on Earth, with Captain Shon being interviewed by a somewhat older, world-weary Admiral Archer. The Admiral went over Shon’s service record–decades of valorous service to the Andorian Empire, a brief period of captivity among the Klingons (during which he somehow won the undying respect and friendship of his captor), followed by years of being relegated to a political post at the royal court. Shon played tough and unimpressed, but leapt at the chance to command a ship again…even a “Frankenship” like the Challenger. We then focused in on T’eknet and Mohammad, visiting Mohammad’s family in Yemen. During this scene, we found out that T’eknet got along great with Mohammad’s mother and father, and that Mohammad’s siblings thought that it was really weird that he was in a committed relationship with a Vulcan who could read their minds. Then, we went up to Earth Spacedock, where the finishing touches on the Challenger’s refit were being riveted in. We zoomed in on Lieutenant M’rrr cursing the air blue at a scared maintenance crewman who’d nearly caused a nasty industrial accident through his clumsy inattention. After a really, really impressive string of cussing across five languages (two of which were alien tongues that Cat made up on the spot), Quorra dismissed the crying crewman and received a message: she’d been promoted to Lieutenant Commander. For the third time. Refusal, apparently, wasn’t an option this time.

    We then jumped to two weeks later, in the 1181-Draco system.

    • This reply was modified 2 weeks, 4 days ago by  Zach Butler.
    • This reply was modified 2 weeks, 3 days ago by  Zach Butler.
    #5322

    Zach Butler
    Lieutenant

    As the Challenger started exploring the system, I had the group make a few routine difficulty-0 rolls to start feeling out the dice rolling system of the game. They found it confusing at first, but eventually got the hang of it. Overall, they found out that the 1181-Draco system had six planets (two regular gas giants, a brown dwarf, and three tiny terrestrial planets) and two asteroid belts. The asteroid belts and the terrestrial planets were absolutely chock-full of valuable minerals, including kemocite; as all the players are avid Trekkies, their faces lit up at the news. Especially Kevin, who kept muttering something about ‘We found a planet made of bombs!’

    Cate wanted to get on with testing out the tractor beam array immediately, and I, like a dope, didn’t let her ’cause I wanted the group to focus on some strange readings they were getting from one of the planets. There was a brief argument. It ended with Cate rolling to begin assembling the tractor beam array onboard the ship, and the rest of the characters moving the Challenger closer to the third planet.

    1181-Draco-3 was a Saturn-style gas giant with six moons, one of which was nearly the size of Earth. I described the moon as a silver-gray ball, completely covered with what looked like impenetrably thick clouds. They detected a breathable atmosphere and slightly lighter-than-Earth surface gravity, no signs of industrialization, and balmy temperatures. Lieutenant Kavien completely mulched a roll to scan the planet for more details (with a dice pool of 4d20, Kevin rolled 3 20s and missed the target number to succeed on a deep scan by 1), and we generated the complication Weird Magnetic Interference, coming off the gas giant. The group didn’t give it more thought–this was an isolated system, with no records of any traffic. Why worry?

    I tried not to smirk too much as I prepared the trap they were walking into. Captain Shon sent an away team (himself, Mohammed, two nameless ‘red-shoulder’ security guards, and a minor science character made by Cate that she called ‘Dr. Logan,’ a meteorologist) down to the moon’s surface. A brief discussion ensued about whether the group would use a shuttlepod or a transporter, which ended with the Chief Engineer lambasting the Captain, in her foul-mouthed way, for being afraid of new technology. We cut to the surface–shrouded in mist, uncomfortably warm and humid (especially for the Andorian captain), and crawling with life. The group had transported down into what looked like a clearing in a tropical rainforest, with huge black-leafed, trunkless, tree-like things stretching ever-upwards. What light filtered through the ever-present clouds and thick canopy was barely enough to see by, so with flashlights in hand, they started exploring.

    I played up the eerie sounds and half-seen things that skittered away from them or across their path. Deb made a joke about how a red-shoulder kept getting attacked by insects or carnivorous plants, and got jittery fast. Everyone loved it, and ran with it–by the end of the session, ‘Ensign Nicky’ was basically Barclay 200 years earlier, but somehow assigned to a security detail on a starship. After a few hours of exploring the forest and taking samples of local plant life and topsoil, the group literally ran into a native. The local was a 8-foot-tall purple-skinned humanoid with metallic-looking hair and eyes. The native was panicking–he was screaming at the top of his lungs and running full-tilt away from something that was chasing him. The native tripped over Mohammed and stopped for a moment to stare in shocked befuddlement at the away party; Mohammed stretched out a hand to help the native–who I described as looking like he was barely out of his teens, wearing clothes that looked like they were cleverly fashioned from plant fibers, and holding a flint-tipped spear–up off the ground. Then a noise not unlike a tiger’s roar reverberated through the jungle, the native shrieked, and tried to hide behind a tree-equivalent.

    Meanwhile, up in orbit, Cate completed a few more rolls for the extended task I’d made up on the spot to test the tractor beam array. She was making amazing progress, assisted by Kevin as Lieutenant Kavien. The man couldn’t stop rolling ones! I, like an idiot, decided to try and slow their progress down without thinking about the fact that having a tractor beam handy wouldn’t really mess up the story that I’d planned out. Everyone got mad at each other when I started burning Threat to slow them down. We ended up ending the session early on a cliffhanger: while the Challenger orbited the moon, a sensor blip appeared on her screens, heading straight for her! Meanwhile, on the ground, reflective, predatory eyes were seen approaching the landing party, through the mist.

    Overall first impressions were that folks had fun with the setting. They felt that the game really emulated being Star Trek officers well, but they were a bit put off by having to learn a system that was so different from the Dungeons and Dragons that we’d been playing together for over a year at the time. They also thought my railroading was lame. I apologized and said I’d do better. Honestly? I did a bit, but not enough. More on that later.

    • This reply was modified 2 weeks, 3 days ago by  Zach Butler.
    #5342

    Zach Butler
    Lieutenant

    We opened up the second session with an explosion off the Challenger’s starboard nacelle. Commander Vasquez brought the ship up to red alert, readied weapons, and sent out a broad-spectrum hail to any ship in the area–“This is the Federation Starship Challenger, we’re here on a peaceful exploratory mission. Cease fire or cease breathing!” Because that fit right along with her value Not Afraid to Escalate the Situation, I let Cate roll a Daring + Command check to see how much she impressed the assailants, and secretly opposed it with the attacking ship captain’s Control + Command. Cate lost by 1 success, so I offered her success, but with a cost: the other ship would stop attacking, but be riled up. Cate went for it.

    I described a crude-looking starship that resembled nothing so much as a stereotypical 1950s-style rocket ship, painted bright red, with orange-clawmark-looking designs painted up and down its hull; the vessel scudded out of the gas giant’s ring system towards the Challenger, guns silent, but still on an attack vector.

    Meanwhile, on the ground, the glowing eyes from the last session turned out to belong to an eight-foot-tall tiger-like humanoid creature, all rippling muscle and blood-matted fur, with batlike ears. A Kzinti! At this point, Cate and I (the only ones at the table who read any of Larry Niven’s books, and definitely the only ones who knew how the Kzinti related to Star Trek canon) explained the basics of the Kzinti: massive, deadly, patriarchal, headstrong, and stupid. The one that was menacing the away team introduced itself as Second Pack Leader, brandished a crude laser pistol at Captain Shon, and demanded that they surrender. Captain Shon drew his Ushaan-Tor in response and demanded Second Pack Leader’s surrender. Second Pack Leader screamed and leapt.

    It was at this point that I entirely messed up running the fight. My first mistake was not reading up on the combat rules completely enough before the session. That bogged down the flow of the fight to no end. My second mistake was splitting the fight between a fast-paced spaceship dogfight in orbit and a tense chase scene on the ground. Given that none of us knew the combat rules very well, splitting focus like that made an exciting action scene into a messy, 3-hour slog. We played for five hours. More than half of that was spent wrangling a sequence that took about fifteen minutes of in-game time. That isn’t precisely uncommon for role-playing games, but it wasn’t time spent having fun, for the most part. My third mistake was trying to railroad everyone to a predetermined end point of the chase on the ground (the native village) and in space (the Challenger being scared out of orbit by the Kzinti raider. I succeeded on one, not the other, and the fact that I was obviously pushing hard for those things to happen angered my players and further dampened their fun.

    Anyway, to cut a long, rambling story of bickering about how rules work and the initiative order, here’s what happened, in roughly in-game chronological order:

    On the ground, Captain Shon immediately went for the lethal attack on the Kzinti with his Ushaan-tor. He invoked his value I Don’t Start Fights, but I Finish Them to give himself a free critical success on the attack, bought a bunch of dice with the sizeable Momentum pool the group had built up to this point, and rolled a buttload of successes. The Kzinti…did not. Between immediate momentum spends and Effect dice results, he dealt enough damage to basically decapitate the Kzinti in one fluid, samurai-like strike. I immediately responded by spending a good portion of the threat that I had available to me to spawn three more Kzinti hunters, one of which started running at the party and firing wildly with his laser gun. Mohammed was up next, and Deb eagerly gave me the threat to have him pull out a particle rifle and lay down covering fire for the rest of the away team. She rolled two Complications, but still succeeded, and I chose to replenish some threat and add the complication Panicking Native.

    Up in orbit, Commander Vasquez’s hail was answered by Kcharff-Captain, commander of Godfang, the Kzinti warship. Kcharff-Captain announced that this system was now the duly conquered territory of the Kzinti Patriarchy, and that the Challenger would be disabled and its crew devoured or sold into slavery. In response, Cate (both of whose characters were still onboard the ship) had Lt. Commander Quorra start snarling insults in The Hero’s Tongue at Kcharff-Captain, who responded with dumbfounded horror at the revelation that a female Caitian was (in his mind) in command of a Federation vessel. In game terms, Quorra made a very difficult Presence + Security roll to occupy Kcharff-Captain’s attention while the rest of the crew prepared for battle. She just barely made it, so the Godfang wasted its turn having its captain yell invective over the viewscreen. Then Commander Vasquez ordered a full attack, and the fight was on.

    Once again, my players continued to roll like gods. The Challenger scored a critical hit with its phase cannons, immediately taking out the Godfang’s sensors. The Kzinti raider sprayed laser beams in a petulant display of defiance, but didn’t actually score any real hits. Kevin used his space-turn to have the science officer keep working on the tractor beam–he had an idea. A terrible idea. A wonderful, terrible, awful idea, that came up about an hour of play time (and five minutes of in-game time) later. The Kzinti ship then rolled to repair some of the sensor damage, and successfully locked weapons on the Challenger. I spent the last of my Threat pool to have the raider go again, and let fly with a flurry of laser blasts. The Challenger’s shields took the damage, but were severely depleted–I described exploding consoles, showers of sparks, all the usual Star Trek accoutrements. My players had fun rocking in their chairs like they were being thrown around the bridge.

    Back down on the ground, Dr. Logan–Cate’s supporting character–did her best to calm down the Panicking Native with a hypospray of sedative (in game terms, a Fitness + Medicine check to wrestle him into taking a hypospray) and barely succeeded, nullifying the Complication before it could cause any real trouble. One of the Kzinti closed with Captain Shon and engaged him in melee, scoring some superficial damage on both sides. Kevin’s Supporting Character–one of the anonymous ‘redshoulder’ security guards–took a few potshots at the other Kzinti to get its attention. And succeeded. Via a Complication Angry Kzinti’s Full Attention. Pity he didn’t do any real damage, as the Kzinti then used its turn to vent its massive, furry, razor-edged frustration on the poor guard. My group liked gory details in combat, so they relished me describing exactly how this schmuck got disembowled by a tiger alien.

    Back to space: Quorra invoked her value Child of Caitian Genocide Survivors to try and figure out the Kzinti ship’s weak points, ‘because [she’d] studied the forces that slaughtered her people.’ I liked the idea, so I went with it. One Reason + Engineering roll later, the Challenger had the Advantage Kzinti Weak Spot Lock-On available. The Kzinti then hit the Challenger in the engines with a spatial torpedo, causing a Breach that made Quorra freak out and immediately spend some momentum to go again (sparking a brief argument about whether or not she could do that) and run down to the engine bay. As she tried to affect repairs, Captain Vasquez ordered another strike at their attackers. We described this as a close-range pummeling match between starships at knife-fighting ranges: point blank blasts of phased particle beams and lasers, clouds of metal flying between the two ships, atmosphere and crew members venting into the void…By the end of the round, the Challenger had suffered 3 breaches (2 to Engines, 1 to weapons), and the Kzinti ship had suffered 4 (sensors, weapons, and engines). Both ships were disabled.

    On the ground, the Kzinti who’d just finished slicing up the redshoulder rounded on Dr. Logan and missed with a bloodied claw swipe. In response, Mohammed blasted the hunter with a particle rifle blast. I spent some more Threat (generated in the last round of space combat) to have another Kzinti show up at the edge of the fight, and Mohammed recommended that the away team retreat to safety. Captain Shon agreed. After he was done lopping off the right paw (that man could not stop rolling ones!) of the Kzinti that was menacing him, he called for the team to fall back into the jungle and call the Challenger for a pickup. Cate laughed her head off.

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